This I Believe

Edward - Bethesda, Maryland
Entered on September 10, 2007


There have been times when my children, once young and innocent, now all grown and gone off with their adult lives, families, etc., would come to me with a dilemma. They would ask, in one form or another, what was the right thing to do in some particular circumstance. Should they do this or should they do that? Did they do enough, did they do as much as they should have, or could have? They come to me even now as adults with similar questions. And I have often asked myself similar questions.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position of uncertainty, or even worse, conflict. If I do this I will hurt this person’s feelings, but if I do that I will not be carrying out the responsibilities of a position that has been entrusted to me. These cases are not simple questions of right or wrong. Whether or not to steal, to embezzle, to commit perjury – these are easy questions. People do them, but there is little doubt in anyone’s mind, including their own, that these are wrong. But whether or not to attend an important occasion, such as a wedding in a good friend’s family when it conflicts with another, also very important event, the absence from which could have significant negative consequences for you or your family – there is the dilemma. Or did I do enough for my parents, now both gone, while they were still with me as I could have? Should I feel guilty about something that I have done to another person, or something that I am about to do? So what do I tell my children when they look to me for wisdom? What do I tell myself when I need such wisdom?

I have found over the years that we can justify almost anything we want to do. We can make excuses, we can prevaricate, we can bob and weave. We can be very convincing that the course of action we have chosen to take is the morally correct one without any doubt. We can be so good at this that all around us will believe us. But in the final analysis, there is one person that we cannot fool, one person that we cannot hide the true motivations behind our actions from, one person that we cannot lie to – the man in the mirror. No matter how clever we may think ourselves to be in the use of persuasive argument, at the end, the man in the mirror knows what is really in our hearts and why we have chosen the course we have.

And so these days when my children come to me with a dilemma of conscience, I give them the answer. I tell them to go into the bathroom, shut the door behind them, and then ask the man (or in my daughter’s case, the woman) in the mirror what they should do. They may or may not follow the advice they receive, but there can be no doubt that it is the truest advice they will ever get.

This I believe.